Focus on Tech: Presenting Visual Material via Prezi

Last summer, I began rethinking the entire process of delivering visual information to my students via the traditional lecture format. Part of this reassessment had to do with my increasing usage of new media sources of information (be it through YouTube, Vimeo, and other web-based audio and visual materials). At the same time, new restrictions and questions of fair use and distribution of web-based content has sparked discussion about how best to present visual materials in the classroom context.

In the past decade, PowerPoint has won favour among most academics for creating lecture presentations. Easy to use, quick to produce, and with the added feature of facilitated upload to virtual learning environments like WebCT and Moodle, the PowerPoint is often the first choice for assembling images and other media. Still, there have always remained some complaints about the program, including the large size of the files (especially if using high resolution images); the time to upload and download files; the difficulty in easily sharing files across all computer platforms and digital devices; and the persistent issue of whether fair use is being employed if shared PowerPoint files include embedded materials from the web.

Prezi provides a highly intuitive and dynamic approach to assembling lecture presentations.
Enter Prezi. I first started hearing about this presentation tool over on ProfHacker a few years back when professors began raving about the potential uses of the new application in the classroom. It seemed to have some glitches at that time and so I did not pay attention at first. But last year, one of my student groups utilized Prezi for a dynamic discussion concerning performance art, and it was really then that I started thinking about how well suited Prezi was for my lecturing approach and style. First, Prezi is a cloud-based application, and utilizes a single "canvas" and a "story-telling" format as a starting point for every new presentation. In this way, the user is able to create a much better and more intuitive flow for a lecture, especially if they begin the class with a larger question or theme to explore. The ability to give a snapshot of the larger picture is really Prezi's biggest plus for me. Second, the presentations are dynamic in that users are able to zoom in and out of images and text without any distortion. For art historians, this is a serious bonus in terms of highlighting parts of a picture without the dreaded pixilation that occurs on a standard PowerPoint. Third, the ability to quickly and seamlessly embed visual materials, including video clips and other files, enables more fluidity between points in a lecture. See this quick video that highlights many of these features:

Finally, the question of fair use is approached in a very interesting way with Prezi. Since the presentation exists in the "cloud" with the user option to share the presentation via a private link, you are not asking others to download your Prezi with the accompanying embedded material (similar to how you view a YouTube embedded in a blog post). At the same time, it is much easier to share a Prezi since users can access it as a link from their computer, laptop, tablet, and even from their smart phone. Also, keeping in mind issues of fair use, it is very difficult to take a screen shot of a Prezi (believe me, I have tried using a number of tools both via Chrome and EverNote), which addresses some of the concerns with distributing materials beyond the classroom's educational use.

Prezi provides many options to use the application
for students and educators.
In my case, I have also purchased the Edu Pro version of Prezi which contains the message "For Educational Use Only" on all my materials and also allows me to produce Prezi's offline on a desktop application and keep my presentations private (unless I want to make them public--as in the two examples on this post). See an example of one of my Prezi's below created for an Introduction to Film Studies Course and another Prezi I assembled for information related to the Field School to Paris and Documenta that I will be part of this May/June 2012. You can also search public Prezi's here and see how many different ways an application like this can be used both inside and outside the classroom. I look forward to experimenting with Prezi over this academic term and would love to hear back from any of you (students and faculty) using Prezi about the pros and cons you have experienced.

**Note** when viewing a Prezi, you can opt to click on the arrow sign to take you to the next step (or go back) in the presentation, or you can go "rogue" as it were and zoom in and out to go directly to any part of the presentation that interests you. This is a great feature if you want to quickly access some part of the presentation right away.